Figure 1: A directed graph with seven nodes, 14 directed edges, and a unique Hamiltonian path is shown. Leonard Adleman in
the 1990s used in vitro DNA techniques to find the unique Hamiltonian path.
is a natural fit for
provides a supportive
teams wishing to
engage in research.”
Adleman checked segments of the correct length for representation of each
node and found some segments that
corresponded to the unique Hamiltonian path of the directed graph in Figure 1. Adelman’s breakthrough experiment demonstrated the application of
biological molecules to solve a computational problem.
In trying to solve the problem in a
new way, the students took a different
approach. The team, composed of students from two campuses, as well as
faculty from the mathematics and biology departments, designed and constructed a proof-of-concept experiment
to solve a HPP inside live bacteria.
The team participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition. iGEM began in 2004 with five teams from the
U.S. In 2010, there were more than 130
teams from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa that shared
information and resources in an effort
to advance the field of synthetic biology.
The iGEM community specifically targets undergraduate students because
of their creativity and enthusiasm. Each
year iGEM students design, build, and
test synthetic biology projects with varied applications and present them at
the annual iGEM Jamboree held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
HURDLES TO CREATING
A BAC TERIAL COMPUTER
Designing and constructing a bacterial computer to solve any math problem
presents several distinct challenges.
First, how will the components of the
problem be encoded into the DNA of a
bacterium? Second, how will the information be manipulated (a necessary
component for computation)? Finally,
how will the results of the computation
The students addressed each of
these challenges to solve the HPP. The
used in this design used living E. coli
to find the solution to the HPP, and is
shown in Figure 2.